Why A Happy Hour Cocktail Is A Thanksgiving Must

It's not just the turkey and dressing that need some planning.

thanksgiving punch

James Ransom; Prop Stylist: Christine Keely; Food Stylist: Ruth Blackburn

Thanksgiving always brings to mind that famous Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover. It’s practically a cliche: The family and friends all smiling and eager; the table and turkey, both looking picture perfect.

And while Thanksgiving is personally my favorite holiday of the year, even I have to admit, that image does not tell the whole story. 

Being with family and friends around the table sounds idyllic. But is it? Preparing for the meal can be stressful, and seeing people you may not have seen for a while can also be awkward. Many people feel anxious or depressed around the holidays, and that can be due to family tensions, a sense of loss over who is not at the table, or dreading the inevitable questions you might not want to answer. I mean, just thinking about cooking a 20-pound bird can cause anxiety!

But I’ve found that a welcome cocktail turns the attention away from the tension. It lightens the mood; it makes waiting for dinner actually fun.

At my family’s annual Thanksgiving, a guest always brought sparkling wine which we popped before sitting down to dinner. But one year after a trip to Italy, the sparkling wine evolved into a round of Aperol Spritzes, and Thanksgiving was never the same. That fizzy cocktail became an ice breaker, a topic of conversation, and lead to discussions about everyone’s vacations.

The next year, I decided to try something new—and before anyone knew it, a new tradition was born. The annual group at my mom’s house is composed of drinkers and non-drinkers, but even those who choose not to drink have a non-alcoholic option that lets them join in the fun. After years of being the one to choose and make the cocktail, I’ve come up with these tips: 

Stick to one cocktail

Everyone having the same cocktail makes the experience more of an icebreaker. The cocktail becomes a great conversation starter. If everyone was drinking something different, it just wouldn’t be the same. 

Provide an equally appealing non-alcoholic option 

It’s important that the non-alcoholic option not be a sad substitute but something special that mirrors the alcoholic version in most ways. The use of non-alcoholic spirits helps, and so does a fancy garnish. 


Making the cocktail in a batch, even if it requires topping off, makes serving it much easier. Just trust me on this. You do not want to be shaking cocktails for 10 people, let alone 20. 

Bubbles are better 

Sure, I love a Negroni or a Sazerac, but not on Thanksgiving. A fizzy drink made with sparkling wine is particularly good because it’s lighter and lower in alcohol, which means guests can indulge a bit more without getting too tipsy. Another round? Go for it!

Tell the story 

Every cocktail has a story! It could be about the origin of the drink or the spirit, or who created it and why. It’s yet another easy conversation starter.

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